Omicron Changes Either Everything or Nothing

When Omicron first broke, some asshole with a blog noted:

The key thing is to Keep Calm and Carry On. Unless you’re laying odds in Vegas on an Omicron surge and you ‘need’ to know what will happen over the long term, over the short and medium terms, it’s the same policy as before: depending on the [COVID] prevalence and vaccination uptake, indoor masking, testing, and vaccination (along with improvements in ventilation and cheap rapid testing–but you, as an individual, probably can’t do that much about those things).

Which brings us to an excellent point by James Hamblin (boldface mine):

But we already know the most important answers to questions about this virus. There is a more cogent, straightforward way to think about the challenges before us and how to meet them. It does not involve waiting to learn if and how some mutations in a viral genome will determine our fates.

For most people, any variant of the coronavirus is going to cause a mild illness. That has always been the case. It’s also what makes this virus so difficult to contain or to get people to care about: The pandemic has always been a problem of scale….

Covid-19 is a disease whose overall deadliness has more to do with us — our willingness and capacity to spread it — than with anything baked into its RNA

Covid is a leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, more than 1,000 Americans are dying of it, as are countless thousands more globally. We do not need to wait to learn more about omicron to know that an extremely transmissible, deadly respiratory virus is spreading widely around the world. If 1,000 deaths each day did not constitute a crisis sufficient to animate the best possible response from everyone, I hesitate to ask what would.

And yet in many places, people are taking zero preventive measures. Especially in states with Republican leadership, the pandemic has effectively been declared over. Lawmakers are largely dedicating their time and energy to fighting measures aimed at increasing vaccination and decreasing transmission. As a result, cases have been surging around the country, even more so in red states, and our national demand for vaccines has stagnated. Relatively slow uptake of boosters may amount to a backslide in progress. Whatever additional evolutionary advantages omicron and future variants may develop, their impact will be extremely difficult to differentiate from the effects of so many people forgoing even basic preventive measures….

In fact, any new variant will most likely lead to only a subtle or imperceptible difference for most of us as individuals. The prognosis for any given person who contracts covid-19 via any new variant is unlikely to be radically different from that with previous variants. And the recommendations for how to prevent transmission almost certainly will remain the same.

If we want to minimize the impact of this variant, we already know what to do, and what to expect, as individuals. Advice on what types of masks to wear, and when, and what types of air purifiers and ventilation systems are most effective, will not change. Omicron and other variants may one day warrant updates to things like vaccines and treatments. But we need not live in fear that our tools will suddenly become useless…

We are not waiting to see how dangerous this new variant is. We’re already determining it.

The one outstanding question is if the full series of three doses would be enough to prevent spread in and of itself–I think that is the case with Delta, but I’m uncertain about Omicron (I still think three doses will limit spread of Omicron, but maybe not enough by itself). But as Hamblin notes in his piece, people are working on that, and plans are being made if we need an Omicron booster (and work on intranasal vaccination also seems to be progressing rapidly too).

While I’m still not 100% convinced Omicron will take off (~90-95% though), we’re already getting hammered by Delta. And Omicron doesn’t have jetpacks and laser beams that enable it to penetrate masks, it is detectable by PCR and rapid antigen tests, nor can it escapes from good filtration systems, so we could stop it. But too many places in the U.S. aren’t taking it seriously (and a subset of pundits aren’t helping*).

Republicans are being actively malevolent, and too many Democrats are refusing to govern aggressively and impose vaccination requirements for non-essential travel and mask mandates when the prevalence is high, so we likely won’t do the things we need to do to stop the spread of COVID, whether it’s Omicron, Alpha, Delta, (or Yo Mama**). But we could though, so people will needlessly get sick, die, and suffer long-term disability.

Which is what we as a society have been doing for the most part all along anyway.

*E.g., I would buy David Leonhardt of the NY Times a t-shirt with the caption “VERIFIED: I HAVE A HUGE COCK!” because watching him prove how tough he is (even as he behaves like a WATB) is getting really tiresome.

**Yes, I made a COVID Yo Mama joke. If that bothers you, The Mad Biologist’s Money Back Guarantee™, as always, is still operational.

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1 Response to Omicron Changes Either Everything or Nothing

  1. gordon victor will says:

    absolute rubbish people are not dying of omicron

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